Thursday, June 28, 2007

Hearing God's Still, Small Voice

Discerning when we are hearing from God and when we aren’t (i.e. when we’re making it up ourselves or when it is actually Satan is speaking to us) is one of the central dilemmas that has brought my faith crashing down.

I was in a Bible study a year or two ago where we were discussing God’s leading, and the process of discernment therein. I think I was probably that annoying person in the group who raises the questions that people don’t really want to talk about in the middle of a study on I John. But I dove in anyway: “But how do you really know it’s God speaking to you? Is it a warm, fuzzy feeling? Is it a sense of peace about something that you haven’t had up until that moment? Do you know it’s God if it’s a leading to do kind, loving things? Can it be God if it’s a leading to do bad things – like kill your kids?”

One of the women in my Bible study said, flat out, that if God told her to kill someone, she would do it. It would be wrong to hold that person as more important than God, to make an idol out of that person or their right to life over God’s commandment to end their life. Like Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac, we have to be willing to follow God wherever he leads, even if it is unpopular, illegal or even (to our limited, mortal eyes) immoral.

Which threw the rest of us in a frenzy: Whoa! Jesus is about love and forgiveness, not murder. How would you be sure it’s God telling you to do that? What about all the wackos out there who have murdered in the name of God? Do you believe God actually told them to do that?

In my memory, this woman’s response was something less than satisfying – she was reluctant to condemn their actions, shrugging and saying that it was possible God had in fact spoken to them in that way. In her own case, she would just know if it was from God because she’s been in a close relationship with Jesus for many years and she knows his voice. She didn’t say whether God’s still, small voice would manifest in her as a warm fuzzy feeling, a set of thoughts that keep coming back even after trying to dismiss them, an explicit and audible voice, and/or some set of external signs or coincidences that seem to confirm the individual message. I wondered about that later.

But that day was the start of the end for me in simply accepting, prima facie, that we can discern God’s voice – or that God speaks to us at all. As I noted in an early blog entry, I had a very difficult prayer experience a few years ago in which I was convinced God had led me to pray in a certain direction. (I should note that, like the woman from Bible study, I had been in a close relationship with Jesus for a long time, and I was pretty sure I knew God's voice.) But when it didn’t go as expected, I had to question whether I had really heard God or just made it up. Either way left very troubling implications for how we relate to God, and made me question the much bigger idea of why God speaks so quietly in the first place. Why is this quietness a virtue? Why does he make it so hard to find him, to hear him, to know whether it’s him at all?

9 comments:

Heather said...

**Like Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac, we have to be willing to follow God wherever he leads, even if it is unpopular, illegal or even (to our limited, mortal eyes) immoral.**

Wow. Then how would she know she's following a good God? Or one that values morals? If God can order someone to kill, doesn't that introduce moral relativism, and things are good/bad depending on circumstances?

Slapdash said...

You would think, right? My guess is that she would say that God is still good but that his purposes are higher than our own and we just can't understand what good might come of it. I mean, what if God had told somebody to kill Hitler? Wouldn't that have been a good thing?

lowendaction said...

nice dots slappy...

So I know I said I'd get back with some more conrete scriptual backing regarding this whole prayer thing, and i will...

A couple of things came to mind when I read you story. First is the correlation of reltaionship and prayer, and the second is this "christian" attitude that "through Christ everythings gonna be honky dory"! I'm not even sure why I thought of that, because no one was really implying that in your situation, but I think it still applies. I believe that God is a realist, and He exists in this present world (as well as all other dimensions...cue Twilight Zone music). So I think he's painfully aware of all of the crap the we all swim in, and doesn't present Himself as somekind of sugarcoated relief from it all!

As far as the whole voice of God thing. It is my understanding that to hear God's voice in regular communication (ie. prayer) we must first be in close relation to Him. Of course there are acceptions when He speaks to specific persons who don't seem to be in relation with Him, but those seem to be determined by Him.

I happen to believe that God's voice could very often be our own. And if we've been investing in our relationship with Him, than our way of thinking/believing starts to align itself with His "will" or heart (I believe this is what Steve was alluding to earlier). In other words, you might often answer your own questions, requests or whatever, but because you've submitted your life to God's design, your decisions are ultimatly His decisions. I hope that made sence...

As far as the lady who wants to kill for Christ...again, if she is in strong alignment with God (and far be it from me to judge that!!), and she can honestly say that God has "told her" to do so...well, I say go for it honey, and I hope you're not a big fan of the outdoors.

Slapdash said...

***As far as the lady who wants to kill for Christ...again, if she is in strong alignment with God (and far be it from me to judge that!!), and she can honestly say that God has "told her" to do so...well, I say go for it honey, and I hope you're not a big fan of the outdoors.***

Okay, I laughed at your last line there, LD, but then had to pause for a moment.

Does it not trouble you, or do you not wonder, whether God in fact could order such a killing?

It just seems to become so frigging subjective when people THINK they have heard from God. "God wants the ministry to go in THIS direction" says the person in charge of X ministry. Well what happens when 3 other people serving in that ministry think God is saying go in a *different* direction? Who's right? Who has God spoken to?

Again, I circle back to why God insists on being so quiet, so easily misunderstood or misheard, and potentially telling different people different things. God is supposedly not a God of chaos and confusion, right? So then how come he allows us all to get so mixed up over what he's saying to us?

I appreciate that you are careful in treading in this prayer stuff. And I know you have said a few times that you don't have answers for some of this - a real attitude of humility, which I appreciate.

I used to have a similar attitude, until I finally looked around me and said - wait a minute, something is fishy here. God is so still and so quiet that we can't even be sure when we've heard him! That ain't right.

maybeitsnonsense said...

How do I know it is god's voice?
Well- some people would say the following: it has to line up with scripture, your 'authorities' should agree, it should be legal (unless unscriptural- for example practicing christianity when it is against the law- you should still practice), deep inside of you should be a certainty.
1- i can use scripture to support many many things- that should not be supported. even christians agree scripture can be twisted.
2- the whole idea of authorities in agreement- poop on it, people are people! that is all i have to say on that.
3- still has the same problems as #1
4- a deep feeling, yeah whatever, i could have a deep feeling to lead me in a wrong direction. also- i have always been told "do not rely on your feelings" but now i am suppose to trust them to determine if i am hearing from god

lowendaction said...

slapsalot - the obvious answer to the killing thing, is that there is scriptual evidence...but that would be to easy, no? I personally can not even conceve of such a God-endorsed act, however I also know that those individuals who the bible described had a deapth of intimacy with God that I have equal marvel for.

I will use an example, regarding the voice of God thing, of something that happened today. I was listening to a sermon, by a guy who's name escapes me, and he really hit me hard with his words. This doesn't happen often (being the jaded MK that I am...), but I shortly thereafter called my dad (who'm I respect for his faith more than words can describe!), and basically talked to him about this overwhelming "feeling/thought process" that had happened as a result of this guys sermon. I don't have much time to go into the whole thing now...sorry, gotta catch the van-pool, but I'll pick this up later (how's that for a teaser!!!).

Slapdash said...

***2- the whole idea of authorities in agreement- poop on it, people are people! that is all i have to say on that.*** (maybeitsnonsense)

Ha ha. I like you.

***4- a deep feeling, yeah whatever, i could have a deep feeling to lead me in a wrong direction. also- i have always been told "do not rely on your feelings" but now i am suppose to trust them to determine if i am hearing from god***

Yes, I see this as a real contradiction in the faith. I was also told, don't rely on your feelings (in Campus Crusade 4 spiritual laws language, feelings were the "caboose" while your thoughts/logic were the "engine" of your faith.)

And yet so much of the leading of the Lord seems to boil down to warm, fuzzy feelings. Sorry - to be more charitable, it boils down to an emotional experience of "peacefulness" or something similar that is attributed to God.

Slapdash said...

Lowendaction - first of all, I need a good nickname for you. It doesn't seem fair that my name provides such easy fodder but yours doesn't. Drag!

As to your voice of God experience... well, I'm certainly not going to tell you it wasn't God. I don't know if it was or wasn't. I have personally now gathered enough life experience to start questioning whether and when God has spoken to me, and when I have manufactured something, or experienced something that wasn't from God but I've attributed it to him anyway. I mean, I feel pretty sure that non-Christians also occasionally have similar "a-ha" type moments listening to something that piques their interest...is it God speaking to them, then? Or is it more likely a developmental phase thing... like when we as humans are ready to hear something, we finally hear it even if the same message has been given to us 10 times before. Is it God who gets us to hear it? Or just our own state of mental readiness for it?

I realize you would say God. Not long ago I would also have said God. I'm not at all sure anymore.

Chris said...

I think we should all re-read "Fear and Trembling" by Kierkegaard, and THEN talk about this issue. :)